Collectivism Kills Charity

Commentary, Government, Lee Harding

“God giveth and the government taketh away,” goes the old, wry saying. God aside, it is people who won’t or can’t give when the government takes away. A recent survey of generosity in the United States and Canada gives even more proof. The more centralist and socialist a society becomes, the less voluntary giving occurs. Socialism doesn’t help community—it destroys it.

The Fraser Institute’s 2019 Generosity Index examined charitable giving in Canadian provinces and American states in 2017. Amongst provinces, Manitoba had the highest percentage of tax filers who gave to charity at 23.4 percent; New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador were the least at 17.9. In dollar amounts, Albertans gave the most at $2,703 each and Quebec the least at $746. In percentages of income, Manitobans gave the most at 1.02 percent, and Quebecers the least at 0.32 percent. Over the past ten years, all of these percentages have dropped for every single province.

When it comes to charity, the United States puts Canada to shame. Only 19.9 percent of Canadians give and the average donates CDN $1,800, or 0.54 percent of their income. In the U.S., 24.9 of Americans give, with the average donating USD $6,751 or 1.52 percent of their income. Every state but West Virginia gives a higher percentage to charity than Canada’s leading province, Manitoba. 

Total donations were USD $256.3 billion in the United States and CDN $9.8 billion in Canada. If Canadians gave as high a percentage of their income to charity as Americans, they would have given $27.1 billion.

Are Americans inherently more selfless than Canadians or are other factors at play? The state with the highest percentage of income given is Utah at 3.15 percent. It seems more people in the Mormon state take seriously the religious obligation of paying tithes to the church. It is possible that more Americans give because more of them are religious than Canadians.

Another possibility is that Canada’s welfare state has made its people less able or willing to give. The government can only give what it has taken from someone else. A comparison of tax levels on both sides of the border also shows sharp differences.

According to the Tax Foundation, Americans in 2017 (the year of the charitable stats above) paid 30.1 percent of their income to national, state, and local taxes. Further north, the Fraser Institute reports that the average Canadian in 2017 paid 43.4 percent of their income to taxes. Charitable giving plus taxes still leaves 68.4 percent of income in the American’s pocket, but just 56.1 percent in the Canadian’s pocket. Canadians had less in their pocket than Americans without giving a single cent.

Socialists may talk about care for one’s neighbour, but the reality is that people are less likely to care for one’s neighbour the more socialist a system is. This is for two reasons. For one, they have less money and time to help their neighbour. They are working too hard and long and are left with too little to offer the help. Secondly, when people believe it’s the government’s job to help someone, they stop doing it themselves. Progressive tax brackets ensure the more someone works, the more the government takes, so why would they work harder.

Collectivism undermines personal initiative so severely that even starvation can’t motivate people enough. The Pilgrims who founded Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 nearly starved for the first two years because of communal living. William Bradford wrote about it in his History of Plimoth Plantation. Page 163 is quoted below, with words spelled in modern English for ease of reading.

The experience . . . may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato & other ancients . . . that [the] taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

In 1623, they divided the same communal land into private plots and were given the biblical adage that if they did not work, they would not eat. Once people were assured of the fruits of their own labours, they worked accordingly. That fall, there was so much to spare, there was plenty extra for anyone in need. They celebrated Thanksgiving for days and invited local Indians to the party.

Human nature doesn’t change. More collectivism will always mean more poverty and less charity. How many more centuries will it take for collectivists to figure that out?



Lee Harding is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.